Department one: the drawing room
07 Apr 1950 -
Aleks Danko’s art may be summarised as a critical analysis of culture: its structures; its hidden agendas; its methods of display, power and influence. There is sometimes an element of nostalgia in his work, recalling his childhood in Adelaide and his Russian/Ukrainian heritage. Danko does not use nostalgia lightly, however, as he manages to transpose the commonplace – items from depart-ment stores, suburban life, the museum or popular culture – into uncanny objects. His installations have a theatrical mood, focusing on the artifice at stake in methods of ‘representation’ or ‘display’. Like many of his contemporaries, Danko has critically questioned the meaning of the museum, the modes of collection and the display of art and culture.
Based on illustrations in a 1930s catalogue, Danko has rebuilt a selection of department store display stands – typically used to display fashionable items of clothing such as ties, hats and gloves – into oversized, almost surreal objects (‘Department two: for display only’ 1994). He then made drawings of his recreations (‘Department one: the drawing room’), re-presenting the illustrations as removed from both time and space. Dripping with a thin red ink, the images animate these devices into dramatic entities. They appear at once utilitarian, monumental, cartoon-like and abstract, their silhouetted forms becoming reduced motifs of their former representations. The connection to the politics of display is underscored by the plinth that accompanies the drawings, while their artifice is heightened by the use of theatrical lighting and the dramatic red rectangles that separate the drawings into indistinct sets.
Throughout his career, Danko has used a variety of media, including drawing, installation, sculpture, performance, film and books. His appropriation of cultural imagery and motifs such as the ‘home’, and play with words and phrases, for example on expressions used by his father (‘as you know, we are pensioners, day in day out, twenty-four hours closer to death’) interact in a complexity of ideas that critically analyse his cultural heritage, daily life and self. In particular, he plays with the notion of ‘home’ as a physical place, a state of being and a repository of memories.1
1. See ‘At home’, Aleks Danko, 1998 quoted in ‘Aleks Danko: songs of Australia, volume 3 – At Home’, University of South Australia Art Museum, Adelaide 1999
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
ink on paper (9 drawings), plywood column
Installation dimensions variable
Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2000
Not on display
© Aleks Danko
Shown in 2 exhibitions
from dialogues with a new window dresser - For display Only, Canberra School of Art Gallery, Canberra, 1993–1993
from dialogues with a new window dresser - Arrangement and Decoration (with Leslie Jones), Sutton Gallery, Fitzroy, 01 Jul 1994–24 Jul 1994
Referenced in 2 publications
Jackie Dunn, Binocular, 'Aleks Danko - and the subject of self-portraiture', pp.61-81, Sydney, 1994, 74.
Wayne Tunnicliffe, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Cultural memory, critical distance', pg.154-203, Sydney, 2006, 162, 163 (colour illus.).